Reports of the death of solar power are greatly exaggerated


US solar company Solyndra‘s bankruptcy filing was a result of a drop in the cost of silicon, not scandal and impropriety

Solar Power in California

US solar company Solyndra filed for bankruptcy recently, but should not be read as the death of the US solar industry. Photograph: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The solar company Solyndra recently filed for bankruptcy, which media reports have depicted as the end of solar power in the U.S. This is like saying there is no future for the internet because Netscape went out of business.

The molar-grinding irony of it all is that Solyndra was the victim of a big success — the price of solar power has fallen rapidly, making more expensive technologies like theirs uncompetitive, but more importantly, making solar power a real player in the U.S. energy economy.

Since October of 2008, the average price of solar modules has fallen from $4.20 per watt to around $1.20 to $1.50 per watt today. These are mind-boggling reductions. And these new prices are resulting in extraordinary market development. As of June, California utilities have signed over eight gigawatts of solar contracts … half of which are below the price of new natural gas generation. That’s right. Gigawatts of solar cheaper than the fossil fuel alternatives. …

So what happened? Silicon got cheap, and the manufacture of crystalline silicon panels got even cheaper. All the innovation, market pressures, and government investment worked. Analysis out on Friday [16 September 2011] from the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab shows that the pre-incentive price of going solar in the U.S. dropped 17 percent last year, and another 11 percent in the first half of 2011 — record reductions since they began tracking the data. …

The holy grail of those working in the field is to bring down costs. Solyndra had a reputed cost structure around $2 per watt. The fact that’s no longer competitive is a sign that solar is succeeding, and delivering on its promise faster and better than the brightest minds and the big bucks ever imagined.

More (Click here), Adam Browning for Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network, guardian.co.uk, Friday 16 September 2011

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